Spurgeon once spoke of what was bitter to Jesus being made sweet to his people. That is our aim as we consider the fifth and shortest of the seven sayings of the cross, that exclusive to John 19:28 … Jesus said ‘I am thirsty’.
The darkness over, following his cry of dereliction, we come to the final period of suffering. John begins Later, knowing now that all was completed and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled …. Always self-possessed, even in agony on the cross, Jesus realises that virtually all that was left to do was to say three more things then die (importantly, to die in broad daylight). He always kept in mind the need to fulfil Scripture. John normally makes a specific reference but here he is general.
The response follows. A soldier lifts a wine-vinegar soaked sponge to Jesus’s lips. The wine was either the soldiers’ or for victims. Some question if hyssop is strong enough to lift a wet sponge but Jesus was probably not far off the ground. The drink would give immediate relief but its astringent action would then tighten the throat muscles making things worse.
Never forget that Jesus is a man, a real man. He did not speak for effect but really was thirsty. As he was hungry in the desert at the beginning of his ministry, now at the end he is thirsty. At other times, he was weak, tired, angry, sad. Hebrews 2:17,18 says he was made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
That Jesus was thirsty is no surprise when we think of all he had suffered since his arrest – trials, mocking, flogging, carrying the cross, crucifixion – all presumably with no drink When offered a drugged drink to dull the pain he rejected it wanting to remain alert. His sufferings were real. Lamentations 1:12, 13 predicts it … Is any suffering like my suffering that was inflicted on me, that the LORD brought on me in the day of his fierce anger? From on high he sent fire, sent it down into my bones. … He made me desolate, faint all the day long. His sufferings were not only physical but mental and spiritual. We can speak of the ‘drought of his soul in the fierce heat of God’s wrath’. He bore God’s wrath in place of sinners on the cross and was, in a sense, in hell, longing for someone to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool his tongue, because he was in agony (Luke 16:24).
The response increased his suffering. All creation was desperate to slake his thirst – every stream and river, every angel - but a wretched man with a wretched drink acted. Do we appreciate how much he suffered.
The phrase was not merely gasped. Relevant Scriptures include Psalms 22:15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth …. 63:1 O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. 69:21 They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst. We are best to see it, perhaps, in Westcott’s words, as a ‘perfect completion of the whole prophetic image’. Scripture was always in Jesus’s consciousness. Do we have the same reverence for the Word?
Remember Satan tempting Jesus to make bread in the desert? A similar temptation came now - not the sort we know much about. Jesus resists. He yields his will to the Father’s. Because he submitted, we are forgiven. Surely, we should submit too.
As suggested, we must look beyond physical thirst to heart desire. It was always there. He longed to see his work completed and know the fellowship of his people. An old writer says ‘He thirsts after our thirst’. Christ longs for you, believer, to reach out in faith to him.
Jesus thirsted in our place, as our substitute. He thirsted so we no longer need to. His tongue was parched because of what sinners like us do with our tongues. Think what you have done with yours. He was punished for his people.
John 4 presents Christ as the great soul-thirst quencher. There is a deep need and longing in every heart. It cannot be properly quenched by what this world offers. We need the water only Christ provides. It is said that when William Coulthard perished in the Australian desert in 1858 he had scratched the words ‘Lost, lost for want of water’ on his empty canteen. That is our position by nature. Yet we need not perish in the desert of this life if we go to the one who died in the place of sinners. Hear his words (John 7:37, 38) if anyone is thirsty let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me … streams of living water will flow from within him.
First published in Grace Magazine